I’m absolutely loving the various authors and titles that Sourcebooks are resurrecting from the recent past. Victoria Holt is another of those that I’d vaguely heard of, but had never got around to reading before, and now I want to investigate more of her back catalogue. The Shivering Sands is a great introduction to her work, and had me figuratively on the edge of my seat at various points.
Written in 1969, and set in the latter part of the 19th Century, the novel tells the story of Caro, the younger daughter of two archaeologists, who has grown up in the shadow of their discoveries and of her sister, who is two years older and following in their parents’ footsteps. Caro, meanwhile, is a talented musician but puts her career on the back burner after she marries a musical genius, partly as a response to the unexpected death of her parents. When her husband also dies suddenly, Caro is comforted by her sister, now a talented archaeologist who is working on a dig in Kent.
Caro tries to restart her musical career, but then she receives the news that her sister has disappeared just as the dig is coming to an end. Caro returns to Kent and takes up a position as a music teacher in the house from whose grounds her sister disappeared, without telling anyone about her previous connection to the area. The family she works for is distinctly odd, as is the vicar’s daughter who takes her lessons with the three girls. Of those girls, the eldest is a legal ward of the house’s owner and recently married his errant son, Napier; one is Napier’s illegitimate daughter and one is the daughter of the housekeeper – although there may be more to her origins as we later discover.
As Caro investigates her sister’s disappearance, she is both drawn to and afraid of Napier, and her suspicions are further aroused following the mysterious disappearance of his young bride, who had been having an affair with the local curate. When a new curate arrives, he recognises Caro, but she manages to keep him from revealing her full identity to the others. They work together to uncover the secrets behind the disappearances and other mysterious happenings, but it slowly becomes obvious that the investigation is putting Caro’s life in danger.
Red herrings abound in this story, and the romance is nicely underplayed much of the time. The eventual solution to the mystery makes sense in terms of when the novel was written, although there’s one plot point I probably wouldn’t accept from a modern author. Caro’s final decision as to which man she wants to spend her life with also fits the characters and the era in which the book was written. I’m definitely a convert to the world of Victoria Holt and look forward to discovering more of her books.
Ancient ruins. Family scandal. Forbidden love.
Caroline knows something is wrong. Her sister Roma has gone missing, and no one can tell her why. The only option is to go where Roma was last seen—an estate with a deadly history…
The Stacy family has lived off the Dover coast for generations, carefully navigating the treacherous quicksands nearby. But the sands aren’t Caroline’s biggest threat. Everyone here has a secret, especially enigmatic young heir Napier Stacy. No matter where Caroline turns, the ground she walks is dangerous. And the closer she comes to unraveling the truth, the closer she comes to sharing her sister’s fate…
Read an excerpt.